[TAKING A STAND: Madam Janice Tay teaches her youngest daughter Soh Zen to stand up to bullies.]
MOST parents would pray that their kids do not get picked on in school.
Not Madam Janice Tay, a mother of three.
Let our children experience bullying, the 44-year-old housewife said. This way, they will learn how to deal with it when they grow up.
Madam Tay told The New Paper on Sunday: 'They cannot turn to their parents for help all the time. Eventually they will have to go on to secondary school and to university...Bullying can happen anywhere.'
She has three daughters aged 17, 15 and 9.
Madam Tay's view was echoed by Professor Donna Cross, guest speaker at the Bully-Free Forum 2009 organised by the Singapore Children's Society (SCS) at the Spring Singapore Auditorium yesterday.
Prof Cross teaches child and adolescent health at the Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, and is also the director of the university's Child Health Promotion Research Centre.
She said: 'We cannot let children believe that things will always be fixed for them...Instead, we need to empower them.'
Power to take control
Replying to a question from a member of the audience on how parents can help their children if they get bullied, Prof Cross said parents should get feedback from their children, give them the power to take control, and not merely tell them what to do.
'(Bullying) is a peer relationship problem, so children need to deal with it in a peer relationship way,' she added.
This is what Madam Tay said she has been inculcating in her youngest daughter, Soh Zen.
'As parents, our first instinct is to over-protect our children and help them to find a solution such as by telling their teachers,' she said.
Madam Tay said Soh Zen, a Primary 3 pupil at Park View Primary School, has never fallen prey to school bullying as she has taught the girl to stand up to bullies. 'I told her to look them in the eye and warn them by saying, 'I don't like you to do this to me',' Madam Tay said.
Park View is the first school in Singapore to embark on a school-based intervention programme - the focus of this year's Bully-Free forum - with SCS. The school's principal, Madam Ong Lee Choo, shared their experience in building a bully-free culture during the forum.
'In 2008, we found that there was a lack of awareness in the school about bullying...It (bullying) can impact a child's life and it ultimately affects society,' she pointed out.
Park View started its bully-free project in January. Besides setting up an anti-bullying committee that comprises counsellors, teachers and SCS representatives, the school also conducts training for its non-teaching staff to deal with bullying.
At the student level, the school encourages its students to be more pro-active when they witness acts of bullying in school.
Part-time tutor Mandy Siang, 42, whose 9-year-old son attends the school, said: 'We tend to neglect the role that bystanders can play when we talk about victims of bullying.
'Bystanders should be encouraged to stand up for victims, such as by telling the teacher or even asking them to talk to their parents.'
Madam Siang recalled an incident that took place when her son was in Primary 1.
'A boy had said 'I hate you' to another classmate,' she said.
'My son stepped in and said he should not have used that word as it was too strong.'
Madam Siang said that while the incident had seemed minor, it can be seen as a form of bullying.
'Children may not know what bullying is about. Even friends can bully each other when they say 'I don't friend you any more', or when they gang up against someone else,' she noted. 'They don't realise it when they themselves become bullies.'
Both Madam Siang and Madam Tay are part of the 50 member-strong parent support group at Park View. (check)(she said 50 something, but cannot remember)
The group meets once a month (check)to brainstorm ideas for workshops to be conducted for other parents, some of which pertain to bullying.
- Geraldine Yeo, newsroom intern
How to help your child
Tips from Prof Cross on how parents can help their kids if they fall prey to bullying:
1. When your child approaches you about a possible case of being bullied, be calm and believe them instead of casting doubt. Discuss the issue with him or her.
Parents should avoid having 'eyeball' contact with their children, as this tends to intimidate them.
'Sit next to your child, such as in the car, so that they will be more open,' Prof Cross said.
2. Ask open-ended questions, such as 'Tell me more about what happened?'. When your child eventually opens up, don't enforce what you think should be done to deal with the situation.
Instead, ask 'What would you like to do the next time this happens?' Let the child feel that he or she is in control.
3. Help your child enhance friendship qualities. Children should also have diverse friendship groups so they can enhance their social information processing skills and become more resilient.